Transformative Dialogue Highly-Effective in Ethno-Political Conflicts

Dan Simon

In this post yesterday on his blog, Dan Simon draws from a White Paper by Erik Cleven published by the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation to review the three basic reasons transformative practice is highly-effective when applied to ethno-political conflicts.

1)  Ethically speaking, it’s not appropriate for an intervenor to presume to know what the appropriate goals of the intervention are, as intervenors often do in current peacebuilding frameworks.  Cleven points out that even such a noble goal as peace may be less important in some circumstances than the participants’ autonomy  – their opportunity to make their own decisions.

“If we [as intervenors] bring a framework for peacebuilding to a group of participants, we have already made important decisions about how to view the conflict, how to talk about it and what we ultimately want to do about it, without the involvement of the parties in these decisions. In fact, we are imposing these frameworks on the discussions, something which could result in topics that the participants deem to be important never
being discussed, or forcing them to talk about things they do not want to talk about.” 
(Cleven, p. 7)
2)  Next Cleven observes that an intervenor pushing for change can both endanger participants and foster changes that are not sustainable. He cites the example of the American Civil Rights movement, where important progress was made toward social justice.  But the progress that occurred in the 50’s and 60’s may not have been possible in the 20’s and 30’s – it would have been unhelpful and likely dangerous for an intervenor to have pushed protesters toward taking action earlier – the protesters themselves needed to make their own decisions about the risks, the potential benefits, and the other factors that weighed into their decisions about when and how to act.  As another example, an intervenor nowadays in Afghanistan might wish for women’s rights to be advanced – as Cleven does himself.  But it would be problematic, Cleven says, for him or other intervenors to push women there to take action, as that action could bring great harm to them under current conditions.

3)  Further, Cleven asserts that the transformative framework takes the relational aspect of peacebuilding much further by integrating it with the idea of party deliberation and decision-making.  He says this framework asks the question “Who needs to talk to whom about what and how?” Asking these questions of the participants leads to more meaningful answers. […]

Cleven then explains how an intervenor proceeds in this framework, with constant respect for participants’ autonomy, including especially their choices about when not to participate.

Cleven’s White Paper is available for purchase here by scrolling down to Who Needs to Talk to Whom About What and How? Transformative Dialogue in Settings of Ethnopolitical Conflict.

You can read Dan Simon’s post in its entirety here.